Conductive Vs Sensorineural Hearing Loss

08/25/2022 | Hearing Loss, Patient Resources

A comprehensive guide about the different types of hearing loss, their causes, and the treatments available.

Statistics show that 16% of adults suffer from hearing issues – double the amount of people with diabetes or cancer. A hearing loss can happen in one or two ears, and the degree of hearing loss can range between mild and severe. It’s most common in those who are over the age of 60, with even higher rates in those aged 75+.

If you’re one of the many adults who experience hearing loss in one or both ears, you may be wondering what type of hearing loss you have. The two most common causes of hearing loss are conductive and sensorineural, and each type is caused by different factors.

In this post, we’ll look at these two kinds of hearing loss, and we’ll explain what each type is and how it’s caused. Plus, we’ll talk about the treatments available for each type, as each one requires a different approach to treatment.

Let’s begin.

What is Conductive Hearing Loss?

Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound is not able to reach the inner ear because of something blocking the path of the sound waves in the outer ear or ear canal or middle ear. Most of the time, this type of hearing loss is temporary because the right treatment can cure it.

How Does Conductive Hearing Loss Occur?

Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound is not able to reach the inner ear because of something blocking the path of the sound waves in the outer ear or ear canal or middle ear. Most of the time, this type of hearing loss is temporary because the right treatment can cure it.

How Does Conductive Hearing Loss Occur?

This can be due to several reasons, including:

  • Earwax build-up
  • Infection or inflammation in the outer or middle ear caused by an illness, local infection, or allergies
  • A foreign object in the ear
  • Perforated or ruptured eardrum (tympanic membrane)
  • A cyst or growth in the ear canal
  • Otosclerosis (abnormal bone growth in the middle ear)

What is Sensorineural Hearing Loss?

Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there is damage to, or degeneration of, the inner ear or the hearing nerve that connects the inner ear to the brain.

Sometimes it’s referred to as “nerve deafness.” Unfortunately, this type of hearing loss usually has no cure, but definite steps can be taken to make sure it doesn’t get worse.

However, if the hearing loss is sudden, please see an audiologist or ENT doctor as soon as possible.

Permanent hearing loss can be avoided with fast medical hearing care.

That said, 32% to 65% of cases of sudden or acute sensorineural hearing loss reverse themselves after a few days.

This type of hearing loss can be caused by:

Dr. Courtney Arnold Au.D., CCC-A testing a patient for hearing loss
  • Exposure to sudden loud noise or long-term noise exposure
  • Age-related hearing loss
  • Trauma to the brain or ear
  • A virus like COVID-19
  • An auto-immune disorder like fibromyalgia or lupus
  • Setting the volume too high or playing loud music on headphones, earbuds, etc.
  • Congenital or genetic issues
  • Certain medications – ototoxic meds that damage the auditory nerves
  • Risk factors such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, or a circulatory disorder

Some less frequent causes of sensorineural hearing loss are Meniere’s disease or a growth on the auditory nerve.

What is Mixed Hearing Loss?

Mixed hearing loss is a combination of both sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss, signaling problems in both the inner auditory system and the outer ear.

Treatment can cure some of the hearing loss and prevent future hearing damage, hopefully avoiding permanent deafness.

is when you can hear your blood flow pulsating near your ears.

How to Tell if Hearing Loss is Sensorineural or Conductive

If it’s conductive hearing loss, the biggest thing adults first notice is that the quality of the sounds they hear isn’t as good as it should be. The second sign we hear about is that even their own voice sounds muffled.

Other symptoms of conductive hearing loss are ear pain or a feeling of pressure, discharge from the ear, itchy ears, or sensitivity to loud sounds (hyperacusis).

If it’s sensorineural hearing loss, hearing loss is more gradual. The first thing you might notice is difficulty hearing in noisy environments. Many adults notice tinnitus (ringing in the ears), too.

Ultimately, a hearing test by a hearing care professional is the surest way to earmark the causes of hearing loss.

Conductive vs. Sensorineural Hearing Loss Tests

It is important to see a doctor or audiologist for a hearing test as they are the only ones who will do a full assessment of every aspect of your hearing and recommend the best way to protect and optimize your hearing health. Prevention protects your brain health and reduces the risk of the ways hearing loss can affect older adults.

During this hearing test, your hearing care professional will determine if you have conductive, sensorineural, or both types of hearing loss and recommend the best treatment plan.

How is Conductive Hearing Loss Diagnosed?

Conductive hearing loss is diagnosed through a physical examination and a hearing test. Your audiologist will look for signs of infection, blockage, or other issues in your ear. We will use a magnifying tool with a light on the end of it (called an otoscope) to look inside your ear, and then a hearing test will help us determine how well you can hear different sounds.

How is Sensorineural Hearing Loss Diagnosed?

Sensorineural hearing loss is diagnosed through a hearing test. This will help us determine how well you can hear different sound frequencies, tones, volumes, and words.

Need your hearing loss diagnosed and treated? Book a hearing assessment with the best hearing clinic in West Texas.

Hearing Loss Treatment Options

Treatment for Conductive Hearing Loss

This type of hearing loss is usually less serious than sensorineural hearing loss because it can be cured. However, both types can be treated to improve hearing.

The treatment for conductive hearing loss depends on the underlying cause.

  • To treat earwax build-up, your doctor may recommend ear drops or irrigation (flushing the ear with water).
  • To treat an ear infection, you may need antibiotics and/or the insertion of grommets or ear tubes to drain any fluid.
  • To treat a perforated eardrum, you may need surgery to repair the hole. More advanced surgery might be required to treat any bone damage in the middle or inner ear.

In some cases, conductive hearing loss can be helped with hearing aids or, if you have profound hearing loss, with a cochlear implant.

Treatment for Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sensorineural hearing loss cannot be cured, but it can be treated with a hearing aid, cochlear implants, or other assistive devices. Additional treatment for sensorineural hearing loss depends on the cause.

  • If the cause is exposure to loud noise, you should avoid further exposure and use hearing protection when exposed to loud sounds.
  • If the cause is age-related hearing loss, there is no cure. However, hearing aids can help improve hearing.
  • If the cause is an infection or inflammation of the inner ear, you may need antibiotics or steroids.
  • If the cause is Meniere’s disease, you may need medication to control dizziness and nausea. You may also need to limit your salt intake.
  • If the cause is a growth on the auditory nerve, you may need surgery to remove the growth.

As with any type of medical issue, the sooner you treat it, the better the long-term outcome.

How Cornerstone Audiology Can Help

If you suspect you or a loved one is experiencing hearing loss in one ear or both, it is important to see a doctor or audiologist for a hearing test to diagnose your type of hearing loss and find its cause.

This is a completely painless, noninvasive assessment of your hearing, and we give the results immediately after.

Should we diagnose you with a hearing loss, we can give you a number of recommendations for treatment and provide counseling on how to protect your hearing from risk factors and enjoy a richer life.

Book a hearing test at Cornerstone Audiology, and please feel free to contact us with any questions about your hearing health. We’re here to help!

Some Common FAQs about Hearing Loss

Q: Can conductive hearing loss be cured?

Yes, it can be cured, with the treatment depending on the underlying cause. Most treatments involve treating the medical issue causing the hearing difficulty.

Q: Can sensorineural hearing loss be cured?

No, it cannot be cured. However, it can be treated in most adults with hearing aids, cochlear implants, or other assistive listening devices. Disease control is also important if the person has diabetes, a heart condition, hypertension, etc.

Q: What is the difference between conductive and sensorineural hearing loss?

Conductive loss occurs when there is a problem with the outer or middle ear that is blocking sound from reaching the inner ear.

Sensorineural loss occurs when there is a problem with the inner ear or auditory nerve, and it usually happens because of long-term degeneration or disease.

Q: What are some other types of hearing loss?

There are two other types: central hearing loss and mixed hearing loss. Central loss happens when there is damage to the central nervous system and is more common in older adults. This can be due to a stroke, tumor, or other condition. Mixed loss is a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss.

Q: How can an audiologist help someone with a hearing loss?

An audiologist is a healthcare professional who specializes in diagnosing and treating hearing loss. They can conduct a hearing test, fit hearing aids, and provide counseling on how to manage hearing loss, and they are medical experts on everything to do with the auditory system and hearing care.

Q: Conductive vs. Sensorineural Hearing Loss: Which is More Serious?

Conductive is less serious than sensorineural because it usually can be cured. However, both types can be treated by a doctor or audiologist to improve hearing.

Q: I Know My Hearing Loss Type, but What Are My Treatment Options?

Conductive hearing loss can be treated by a hearing care professional with irrigation, medication, surgery, or hearing aids, followed by a good plan for hearing protection and prevention of future hearing loss.

Sensorineural hearing loss can be treated with hearing aids, cochlear implants, or other assistive listening devices.

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Julie Hubik, Au.D., CCC-A - Doctor of Audiology & CEO of Cornerstone Audiology

Dr. Hubik is the owner and founder of one of West Texas' most trusted and professional hearing providers, Cornerstone Audiology. She received her bachelor of science degree in communication disorders as well as her doctorate of audiology from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC). In her youth, Dr. Hubik became interested in helping people with a hearing loss to communicate more effectively and therefore pursued a degree in this field. Dr. Hubik was born and raised in Anton, Texas, and appreciates working with the people of West Texas. She and her team are proud to serve the hearing needs of their community.

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